There are only two ways of telling the complete truth–anonymously and posthumously.
–author and economist Thomas Sowell
A writer on a science fiction panel once observed that after Philip K. Dick died, the sales of his books shot up, so for him, death was a good career move.
There’s a trend toward shorter books with shorter chapters because they’re cheaper to buy and more important, faster to read. So what chance could a 500,000-word, 736-page, four-pound, $35 autobiography, published by a university press and written by a dead man who had never done anything heroic or barbarous have to succeed? Enough if the man was Mark Twain, who insisted that the book not be published until he was dead for a century.
U.C. Press did a first printing of 50,000 copies, an ambitious number, considering the state of the business. But Autobiography of Mark Twain reached the number two position on the New York Times bestseller list. An article in the Times (11/20) noted that even with 275,000 copies in print after six printings, booksellers couldn’t get their hands on all the copies they wanted. UC Press has its printer turning out 30,000 copies a week to try to meet the demand.
Women buy, read, edit, and agent more books than men, but one reason for the book’s success is that it’s an appealing gift for men that makes the giver look good. The book is at the happy intersection of history, biography, and autobiography, all wrapped up in the life and times of one of America’s greatest writers. Advance publicity and excerpts in magazines helped as did Twain’s wit, insight, and relevance. Also, it’s a nonlinear book readers can dip into and read as much of as they have time for.
It’s reassuring to know that anything is possible, that the unexpected can still happen. And when a book merits its success, it restores my faith that if a book is good enough, it will find its audience no matter how it’s published. For the second of the three-volume set, maybe UC Press could get Twain to tour and Tweet. Now that would really be a good career move.
I hope you have enough reasons to keep writing and to have a happy Thanksgiving weekend.
The Eighth San Francisco Writers Conference / A Celebration of Craft, Commerce & Community / President’s Day Weekend, February 18-20, 2011 / Mark Hopkins InterContinental Hotel on Nob Hill / Keynoters: Dorothy Allison & David Morrell / Pitch your book to agents and editors from both coasts / More than 50 breakout sessions / 100 presenters / www.sfwriters.org / email@example.com / blog: http://sfwriters.org/blog / free MP3s at www.sfwriters.info / open to anyone: a day of in-depth classes on Monday, February 21st
New! San Francisco Writers University: Where Writers Meet and You Learn, a project of the San Francisco Writers Conference / Laurie McLean, Dean / www.sfwritersu.com